Singapore hosting region's biggest autism event

(From left) Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower and Education Low Yen Ling, Asia Pacific Autism Conference 2019 chairman Denise Phua, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee and Autism Resource Centre deputy executive director
Students from Pathlight School putting on a dance performance to open the Asia Pacific Autism Conference 2019 at Resorts World Sentosa yesterday. It is the first time that the biennial event is being held outside Australia. Singapore was chosen as host because of its location in the heart of the region.PHOTO COURTESY OF AUTISM RESOURCE CENTRE
(From left) Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower and Education Low Yen Ling, Asia Pacific Autism Conference 2019 chairman Denise Phua, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee and Autism Resource Centre deputy executive director
(From left) Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Manpower and Education Low Yen Ling, Asia Pacific Autism Conference 2019 chairman Denise Phua, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee and Autism Resource Centre deputy executive director Stephenie Khoo watching a robotics demonstration by Pathlight School Secondary 2 student Nathan Tan. PHOTO COURTESY OF AUTISM RESOURCE CENTRE

Republic's hosting of conference a sign of how far it has progressed in providing support for those with disorder

Singapore has become the first country outside Australia to host Asia-Pacific's largest autism learning event.

More than 1,700 delegates from Singapore and 30 other countries are attending the Asia Pacific Autism Conference 2019 (Apac19) at Resorts World Sentosa.

Some 50 delegates at the event, which ends tomorrow, are on the autism spectrum.

Ms Joan McKenna Kerr, chairman of the Australian Advisory Board on Autism, which convened the biennial event, said it chose the Republic because of its location in the heart of the region.

"From the response received, this was definitely a move in the right direction," she said. "We congratulate Autism Resource Centre (Singapore) and the organising committee for putting together a well-thought-out conference programme that meets the needs of the autism communities here."

Ms Denise Phua, chairman of Apac19's organising committee, said at the opening ceremony that Singapore's hosting of the conference is a far cry from its "dismal" autism landscape just 20 years ago.

She said that at the time, awareness of the disorder was low, services were few and there was poor access to resources and provisions.

But, she said, a group of pioneers, including Ms Ho Ching, current adviser to the Autism Resource Centre and chief executive of Singapore investment firm Temasek, started several "much-needed services", such as training and special education schools.

Singapore also benefited from overseas experts, including the National Autistic Society in Britain.

Ms Phua, who is also an MP for Jalan Besar GRC, said Apac19 is Singapore's way of showing its "deep appreciation" of how much it has benefited from learning from others over the past years.

She noted that today, Singapore has more than 20 government-funded early intervention centres, 19 special education schools and more mainstream support, employment programmes and homes for people on the autism spectrum.

  • 1,700

  • The number of delegates from Singapore and 30 other countries who are attending the Asia Pacific Autism Conference 2019. Some 50 of them are on the autism spectrum.

 
 
 
 

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee also highlighted measures that Singapore has taken to support these people.

These include the launch of three Enabling Masterplans in 2007, 2012 and 2017. Each of these plans has resulted in additional support for people with special needs, including 30-year-old Edwin Lim.

Mr Lim, who has mild to moderate autism, had trouble finding a job after national service as employers would tell him they did not hire people with his condition.

But with the help of Autism Resource Centre, he got a job as an administrative clerk at United Overseas Bank's Scan Hub, where he has been working since 2013.

He said: "The people are supportive and I'm happy I have work to do so I don't get bored with myself.

"To those who are out there struggling, never give up. There are people who are willing to help."

However, both Mr Lee and Ms Phua acknowledged that more needs to be done.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2019, with the headline 'S'pore hosting region's biggest autism event'. Print Edition | Subscribe